THEY are known for living off takeaways, microwave meals and, when their cash runs out, beans on toast.

But students at one of Scotland's leading universities are to be encouraged to ditch convenience meals in favour of preparing their own fresh food.

The University of Edinburgh's accommodation services department has launched its first 'Cook School', aimed at teaching students who have flown the nest with little culinary know-how to prepare fresh dishes themselves.

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According to the university, the initiative is already proving a hit following its launch last week, while the move has also been welcomed by healthy eating campaigners in the capital who said a good diet could boost academic attainment.

Ian Macaulay, the university's assistant director in catering, said: "While ready-made meals will always be a popular choice among students, we hope the cook school will be a step towards changing behaviours and demonstrating that cooking with fresh ingredients can be much more cost effective, more healthy and fun.

"There is a definite need for cookery classes in universities, not only for students with no experience in cooking from scratch, but also for those who feel that their skills in the kitchen need to be refreshed. It's also a great confidence booster for students making the transition from catered to self-catered accommodation.

"The interest in the cook school from the university's students has been phenomenal. It's great to be able to provide students with the opportunity to learn from our professional university chefs."

Up to 12 students will take part in every two-hour class, for which they are charged £10. They will initially be taught to prepare basic dishes, such as spaghetti bolog-nese, before progressing to more complex recipes. There are plans to introduce advanced classes. The course also covers knife skills, food hygiene and safety.

One University of Edinburgh student who has started the course said: "I have found the classes to be beneficial in improving my existing cooking skills and teaching me to use healthy, fresh ingredients rather than over-processed foods.

"Now I know how easy it can be to cook a healthy nutritious meal from scratch, I will be spending more time in the kitchen."

The university's initiative comes after Edinburgh's New Town Cookery School offered a five-day "Getting Ready for University" course. Costing £600, it aims to prepare students to fend for themselves and survive healthily after leaving home.

Chris Mantle, a food and health development worker with Edin-burgh Community Food, said that while his organisation usually worked with the vulnerable or those in deprived communities, poor diet was an issue across society.

"Students famously do not eat the best food - a situation not helped by a lack of emphasis on cooking and home economics at school," he said. "However, Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence is putting healthy eating back on the agenda. And while it may take some time for this to bear fruit, it is heartening to see Edinburgh Uni tackling this issue by offering relatively affordable classes which cover not only healthy cooking but also crucially important areas such as good food hygiene and knife skills.

"The enthusiastic response from students shows that there is a need for classes like these - and a healthy diet means a healthy mind, better energy levels and, perhaps, even better academic attainment."